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The Effect of Stimulant Medication on Those without ADHD

One of the most shocking trends is how stimulant ADHD medications like Ritalin are now used as recreational drugs by teenagers and college students.  People who do not have ADHD should never take stimulant ADHD medications to help them stay awake or do better in school. Although ADHD medications themselves are not addictive, they have the potential for abuse, especially if their use is not restricted.

Methylphenidate (the generic name of Ritalin) is called a "stimulant" because it kick-starts the central nervous system into increasing the production of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine.  These two brainchemicals are responsible for attention, impulse control, and mood.  However, methylphenidates come from the same chemical family as cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.  In fact, studies on lab rats and monkeys show that the effects of stimulant ADHD medications are no different from those of cocaine. This is why Ritalin and other ADHD medications are classified as Type II substances – they cannot be bought by anyone without a prescription from a doctor.  If abused or used improperly, they cause the same devastating side effects as cocaine and other illegal stimulants.

It's easy to see why taking ADHD medicines illegally can be attractive to students.  Stimulant medications are basically "uppers," with desirable side effects like insomnia, appetite suppression, weight loss, and short-term mood elevation.  One pill is enough to keep a student awake all night to type out a last-minute term paper.  However, the effects of these drugs only last several hours; when they wear off  they cause a "crash" that make a person feel sleepy, sluggish, or even depressed.  As with other uppers, a person can form a tolerance to stimulant medications, which means that he or she will need to take more of them to produce the same effects.  Soon, the person becomes used to taking the drug, and suddenly stopping could lead to severe withdrawal symptoms characterized by extreme fatigue and depression. 

Not all the effects of ADHD medications are desirable, either. Methylphenidate can cause uncomfortable short-term side effects like anxiety/nervousness, irritability, headaches, nausea, dizziness, tics, and blurred vision. As if these weren't bad enough, long-term side effects include heart palpitations, blood pressure problems, and psychotic symptoms like distorted perceptions of reality and hallucinations.  The worst side effect of stimulant medication is death from heart failure.  Stimulants can damage the blood vessels in the heart, causing it to deteriorate and eventually fail after years of use.  Many children who have died because of Ritalin had no heart conditions before they began taking the drug.  

Although pharmacies are strict about selling methylphenidate, anyone with access to this drug can easily sell this under the counter.  You can prevent your children from being a casualty by educating them about the harmful side effects. Point out that there are other ways to accomplish their school work on time, and let them know that you are willing to help if they need assistance.